The following is a guest post by Nat.
In combat sports, the greatest champions have always defined themselves through trilogies against other great champions. Muhammad Ali fought timeless trilogies against Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, Georges St. Pierre battled 3 times against Matt Hughes, and Fedor Emelianenko battled the great Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira in the Pride ring. Even lower level fighters can elevate themselves to legendary status through a great trilogy — Gatti vs. Ward is a prime example.
While the record may show that Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez both possess one win against the other, the record doesn't tell the full story. In their first encounter in November 2011, Junior Dos Santos blitzed the current heavyweight kingpin at 1:04 of the first round — on the first ever card televised live on Fox — to take the heavyweight strap from the newly minted champ. In their second encounter, then challenger and current champion Velasquez was able to stagger Dos Santos in the first round and proceed to dish out a sustained beating over 5 rounds, handing the Brazilian champion his first UFC loss.
These encounters set the stage for one of the most intriguing rubber matches in MMA history, when Dos Santos and Velasquez square off for a 3rd time on October 19, 2013 in Houston, Texas, where the crowd will be heavily in favor of the defending champ. In addition to the stellar main event, the upcoming UFC 166 card features a number of other intriguing matchups and storylines.
John “The Magician” Dodson (14-6-0) vs Darrell "Mongoose" Montague (13-2-0)
While the UFC's flyweight division hasn't always gotten the respect it deserves during its brief existence, the main card's opening fight can only help improve the division’s stature. Ultimate fighter winner and former title challenger John Dodson takes on former Tachi Palace Fights title holder Darrell "Mongoose" Montague, as Montague makes his Octagon debut in what promises to be an exciting, action-packed bout. While the UFC's lightest division has been criticized for a perceived lack of finishes, both Montague and Dodson have the ability to end a fight quickly via KO or submission.
Before signing with the UFC, Montague was considered by most to be the best flyweight outside the organization. His only loss in the division is to former #1 ranked Flyweight and current UFC contender Ian McCall. However, there will be no warm up fight for Montague as he steps into the Octagon for the first time against the dangerous John Dodson, who just might be the heaviest puncher in the division.
Both fighters are very well versed in all aspects of the game, and neither fighter is averse to duking it out on the feet. Montague is a tough, well rounded young fighter with plenty of upside, but Dodson's power will likely make the difference here and prove too much for the young newcomer to handle. If Dodson doesn't catch Montague with his heavy hands, he should still be able to emerge with a clear decision victory.
Gabriel “Napao” Gonzaga (15-7-0) vs. Shawn "The Savage" Jordan (15-4-0)
In the second bout of the evening's main card, Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga and Shawn "The Savage" Jordan square off in a matchup designed for fireworks. While some might question why this bout was placed on the main card over the higher profile Nate Marquardt vs. Hector Lombard matchup, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is clearly banking on these two heavy handed heavyweights delivering an exciting finish. For Gonzaga and Jordan, it tends to be "finish or be finished".
Out of 19 MMA bouts, Jordan has only gone to the scorecards three times, while "Napao" has only been to a judges' decision a single time in 22 bouts. Gonzaga enters the bout coming off a KO win over the enigmatic Dave "Pee Wee" Herman, while Jackson MMA product Shawn Jordan has recent TKO victories over the popular Pat "HD" Barry and the perpetually underrated Mike Russow.
While both fighters have knockout striking power, as a former Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion, Gonzaga has the clear grappling advantage. However, Gonzaga has also shown a tendency to wilt under heavy pressure, as highlighted by his 6 KO/TKO losses. Coincidentally, his most recent loss was to Jordan’s teammate and emerging contender Travis Browne via KO.
Gonzaga may be a world champion BJJ practitioner and UFC veteran, but can he get the fight to the ground against the ever improving Jordan? While anything can happen when two heavy handed heavyweights step into the cage, Jordan's power and Gonzaga's lack of durability will likely result in a finish for the Jackson MMA product if Gonzaga cannot get the fight to the ground. If Jordan can keep the fight standing, "The Savage" should be able to pile up damage on Gonzaga and end the fight with a TKO or a clear decision victory.
Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez (21-3-0) vs Diego "The Dream" Sanchez (24-5-0)
Coming off a razor thin decision loss to then UFC Lightweight champ Benson "Smooth" Henderson, Gilbert Melendez faces off with TUF 1 winner Diego Sanchez in what promises to be an exciting lightweight tilt. Melendez has been considered a top 3 lightweight for the last few years, having been Strikeforce champion and just one judge’s scorecard away from securing UFC gold in his last bout, where many experts thought he had done enough to secure the victory. On the other hand, Sanchez appears to be heading towards the downside of his career and hasn't had an uncontroversial win in the octagon since his victory over Paulo Thiago in 2010. "The Dream" would likely vault himself back into the top 10 if he is able to emerge with a victory over "El Nino", while "El Nino" puts himself back in line for a potential title shot with an emphatic win over Sanchez.
Both Sanchez and Melendez like to move forward and impose their pace and pressure on their opponents. However, Melendez is a significantly better boxer and wrestler than Sanchez, and has shown time and time again in recent years that he has the potential to be the #1 lightweight on the planet. Expect a decisive boxing advantage from Melendez and some interesting scrambles on the ground, with Melendez emerging with a clear 3 round decision victory.
Daniel Cormier (12-0-0) vs Roy "Big Country" Nelson (19-8-0)
Perhaps the only heavyweight on the same level as Dos Santos and Velasquez, number three ranked heavyweight Dan Cormier takes on the ever popular Roy "Big Country" Nelson in the evening's co-main event. Despite all the talk of Cormier moving down to light heavyweight to take on champion Jon Jones, he still has to get past the durable and heavy-handed Nelson at UFC 166.
The undefeated 12-0 Cormier has looked unstoppable since coming in as an alternate to win the much hyped Strikeforce heavyweight tournament in 2011-2012. His recent resume includes notable wins over former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett, recent title challenger Antonio Silva, and more recently former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir. Despite winning a unanimous decision, the bout against Mir was a disappointing performance for the highly touted Cormier, and led some to question whether he has what it takes to wear UFC gold. However, getting his first octagon win under his belt should take the pressure off of the American Kickboxing Academy standout and allow him to perform to the peak of his abilities, as he looks to get his hand raised in the UFC for the second time.
Nelson, on the other hand, is coming off of a tough loss against rising UFC heavyweight Stipe Miocic. "Big Country" holds a 6-4 UFC record and an overall MMA record of 19-8. Although originally known for his world class Brazilian jiu jitsu and stifling top game, Nelson’s UFC run has been defined by a heavy right hand and an impressive durability that has seen him capture all of his UFC wins via KO/TKO, while his losing efforts often resulted in sustained punishment en route to the scorecards.
Despite his heavy right hand, world class jiu-jitsu, and granite chin, the likeable Nelson will likely find himself out wrestled and out struck by Cormier. Cormier will use his quick footwork and well-schooled kickboxing to land combinations and circle away from Nelson's dangerous overhand right. Expect Cormier to out-wrestle and out-strike Nelson en route to a clear cut three round decision.
Junior "Cigano" Dos Santos (16-2-0) vs Cain Velasquez (12-1-0)
In one of the most inspirational sports quotes of all-time, Muhammad Ali said this about his training:
I hated every minute of training, but I said, "Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion."
Perhaps then the question here is: which fighter suffered the most in training? In the most highly anticipated rubber match in recent memory, Junior Dos Santos looks to take back his belt from the man who snatched it from him at the end of last year, while defending champ Cain Velasquez makes his second attempt to defend his belt against the only man to best him in MMA competition.
In the early going of their 2nd encounter, Velasquez pushed for takedowns early, in sharp contrast to their first encounter where he was heavily criticized for abandoning his wrestling roots against the heavy handed Dos Santos. The return to his wrestling roots paid off. Despite the fact that Dos Santos showed off a remarkable ability to stay on his feet in the first few minutes of the bout, Cain's notorious pressure and blend of takedowns and sharp strikes wore down Dos Santos quickly. After the fight, however, Dos Santos has pointed to a divorce and overtraining as factors that contributed significantly to his early gassing in their 2nd encounter. He has since hired a team of experts to monitor his training carefully, in hopes of avoiding the same pitfalls that plagued his last training camp. We’ll see if it makes a difference come October 19.
Expect the former NCAA Division 1 All-American wrestler Velasquez to employ the same game plan he used successfully in the 2nd fight, applying furious pressure with takedowns in the early going. For Dos Santos, the key to success will be to use his footwork and jab to keep his distance, and rely on improved conditioning to match the champ's relentless pace.
Although Dos Santos could definitely use his footwork, jab, and impressive takedown defense to stay on his feet and outbox the champ, his biggest challenge will be matching Velasquez's relentless pace. This will be no easy task, as Velasquez has perhaps the best cardio the heavyweight division has ever seen. If overtraining was really a factor in Dos Santos gassing in the 2nd fight, could a rejuvenated Dos Santos withstand Velasquez’s pressure and impose his will on the heavyweight champ?
Who Will Take A Step Towards Greatness?
Both fighters possess a dominating win over the other which showcased their respective strengths: JDS with his skilled boxing/knockout power and Velasquez with his relentless pressure, quick combinations, and All-American Wrestling. If Dos Santos can hurt Cain early and establish his footwork, distance, and combination punching, he’ll certainly have a good chance of taking back the heavyweight strap. But Velasquez could also use his relentless pressure to grind down Dos Santos and take a close, hard fought decision. No matter who wins, one thing is for certain – whoever wins this bout will be one step closer to securing their position as an all-time UFC great.
Nat is a full-time writer, SEO, and a martial arts fanatic. Nat regularly trains in Muay Thai (as a weekend warrior) and holds a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Nat is currently the editor of the blog KeepInspiring.me and RealFoodFreaks.com.